Not a Colony

The novelist who came in from the Cold War

  • July 6, 2005 9:05 pm

He’s made a career spinning tales of East-West espionage. But as John le Carré tells ALAN FREEMAN, his newest novel reflects a brave new world of U.S. ‘hyperpower’ — and his fears about where it is leading us


London — He speaks slowly and calmly. He has the soft accent and intonation of an Oxford graduate and onetime teacher at Eton, and uses the language of a master wordsmith. But John le Carre is a very angry man.
At 72, David John Moore Cornwell is probably the world’s best-known spy writer, though his novels have a literary quality few others can match. Since writing his first novel more than 40 years ago as a young diplomat and intelligence officer in Germany, le Carré has published 19 titles, including such classics of the genre as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Russia House.

His latest book, Absolute Friends, combines le Carré’s fascination with the Cold War and his current bête noire: a burning conviction that the war against terror unleashed by the United States is a threat to world peace as great as the evil it’s supposed to be fighting.

The novel tells the story of a Briton named Ted Mundy and a German called Sasha, the son of a Lutheran pastor with a shady Nazi past, who become “absolute friends” in the near-revolutionary ferment of West Berlin in the late 1960s.

They end up as double agents for the British during the Cold War and resume their friendship years after the fall of the Berlin Wall when they resume their lives as spooks in the run-up to the war in Iraq, ending up as victims of what le Carré calls the “neoconservative junta” that now rules Washington.

The novel goes back to a familiar theme and old territory: Germany during the Cold War. And his descriptions of people and places are as evocative as ever. But le Carré denies suffering from a case of what contemporary Germans call Ostalgie, nostalgia for the old East Germany.

“I’m much more interested in the organic procession of history. I’m not wishing for the good old days of the Cold War,” says the author. “The reverse: What I find extremely upsetting is the speed with which the one hyperpower has recreated an atmosphere of terror.”

His views on the Iraq war are peppered throughout the novel, which was completed in June of 2003. “The war on Iraq was illegitimate … It was a criminal and moral conspiracy. No provocation, no link with al-Qaeda, no weapons of Armageddon. Tales of complicity and Osama were self-serving bullshit. It was an old colonial war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judeo-Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America’s post-9/11 psychopathy.”

Le Carré shares his time between his principal home in Cornwall and a lovely Victorian brick house on a private road near Hampstead Heath, an oasis of village-like gentility just a few blocks from London’s bustle.

The sitting room is filled with comfortable furniture — nothing that indicates his immense success as a writer — and le Carré himself is dressed in a simple sweater and comfortable trousers.

When le Carré offers a visitor a glass of water, a casually dressed, middle-aged man comes in with a large Evian bottle on a tray.

For a novelist who long eschewed interviews, le Carré can’t stop talking about Bush, Blair and the war on terror. “I don’t like the term ‘war on terror’ because it presupposes that you turn an ideological, religious war into a territorial conflict.”He blames the wave of terror in the Middle East “first and foremost on the creation of the state of Israel and the unceasing conflict that’s arisen there. If we could solve the Palestine-Israel problem, we’d be halfway to solving a whole lot of other problems. If you believe, as I do, that Israel must survive, that Jews deserve a homeland, it is now at least possible to say that they’re going about it the wrong way. But already, that makes me an anti-Semite. … When I wrote The Little Drummer Girl,” his 1983 novel that focused on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, he notes, “I received the most disgusting letters from American-Jewish organizations. None was from Israel.”

Le Carré believes the world is suffering from three forms of fundamentalism. He doesn’t talk much about Islamic fundamentalism, saving his harshest criticism for the alliance between Christian evangelism and what he calls Zionist fundamentalism. “Doesn’t anybody ever talk about Zionist fundamentalism, those American-Jewish settlers in the settlements? You hear the same racist junk and the same bloodthirsty talk and the same indifference to life and death.”

Le Carré bristles at suggestions he may be anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. “I’m not even an anti-Zionist. … I want Israel to survive. And I think that every step that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon has taken compounds the situation.”

When it’s recalled to him that Bush and Sharon were both elected and can be replaced by voters, while the likes of Saddam Hussein rule as despots for decades, le Carré shoots back: “Do you suppose that Bush was legally elected? Do you suppose that it is democratic to dismantle rights in America that the forefathers of the present politicians fought for bitterly? Do you suppose we’re offering a democratic example through Guantanamo? Do you think it democratic to lie, persistently and deliberately, to a population that has elected, or not elected, you?

“So don’t please fall into the trap of believing this is a battle between the civilized and the uncivilized world. That’s the first colonial misconception. This is a battle between hyperpower and non-hyperpower. It’s a battle between majorities and minorities. Never was there such an unequal war fought on such spurious grounds in my memory, except possibly if we go back to Suez.”

Absolute Friends did not start off as a book about the war against terror. Le Carré started blocking out his plan for the book prior to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and planned to write a book about the emerging wave of anti-globalization protests. He thought a new generation of Baader-Meinhof-style terrorists might be emerging, which is why he decided to concentrate on the stories of Ted and Sasha, both of whom had their origins in the 1968 generation of revolutionaries.

But after Sept. 11, his focus switched to the U.S.-led war against terror. “I watched with horror how the American media and the American public was gulled into believing that Saddam had a part in the Twin Towers. … Where the hell were the Democrats then, where was the American press, how can you be proud of that, how can you call that the voice of democracy?”

He is disappointed with the decision of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to lead Britain into war alongside the United States. He recalls marking Blair’s victory in the 1997 general election with a giant party. “Everybody came and we wept and embraced each other that all those dreadful years of rot from the Conservative Party were over.”

When it comes to Iraq, he is convinced that Blair did something “pragmatically, diplomatically nearly mad: He promised to go to war with Bush whether or not he could deliver Europe or the United Nations.” He believes that Blair is shaped both by his love of acting and his abilities as a lawyer, which combine to create “an alarming conviction that his charm and his eloquence will overcome what a cooler head” would say should not be done.

As a writer, Le Carré describes himself as a Luddite in terms of technology, avoiding computers and admitting complete ignorance of the Web. But he still believes in first-hand research. Before writing The Tailor of Panama several years ago, he travelled to Val d’Or, the northern Quebec mining town, for about 10 days to get a feel for the kind of place where one of his characters escapes to. “I just hung out there. There was an old priest who told me about the stories of the old mining community. And he spoke beautifully about the responsibilities of the whores in the whore houses, because these guys were cut off … and the girls have to provide domestic comfort.”

Le Carré admits having a soft spot for Canada. “You have a national temperament which I greatly enjoy, and it’s not just about differentiating yourselves from the United States.”

For Absolute Friends, he returned to Berlin and to Bavaria, where he spent time following the guides at one of the chateaus built by Bavaria’s Mad King Ludwig. It’s where the reader finds Ted Mundy at the start of Absolute Friends, eking out a living shepherding tourists through Ludwig’s crazy folly.

Le Carré clearly senses the fact that in Absolute Friends he has crossed a line and written much more than a thriller. “One of the reasons I stick out is that nobody else is writing political novels. Some of my readers will walk away from it in disgust,” he admits, though his publishers don’t seem overly worried. The first U.S. printing is a cool 310,000 copies.

Teck Cominco tells U.S. EPA to butt out

  • June 17, 2005 9:11 pm

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Teck Cominco Metals Ltd. has rejected any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency jurisdictional claims over its Trail smelter.

It will likely ratchet up the dispute to another level, and Ottawa and Washington know about the dispute. The EPA said Teck operations in Canada had to formally submit to U.S. law within 30 days over alleged pollution of the Columbia River.

The EPA is demanding Teck pay to study the effects of heavy metal pollution from its smelter in Trail on the river that also flows into Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Washington state.

Tom Eaton, head of EPA operations in Washington state, previously said Teck’s proposed studies were not up to U.S. standards, not credible and that Teck did not want to be held to the same standards as U.S. polluters.

It is estimated the smelter has dumped about 20 million tonnes of waste slag containing smelting byproducts into the river, some of which may have ended up on beaches near Northport, Wash., perhaps posing a health problem.

“There is no precedent, nor the legal right for the EPA to apply its regulations on a company operating legally in Canada,” said Doug Horswill, the Vancouver-based firm’s senior vice-president, environment and corporate affairs. “One can imagine the outrage in the U.S. if the Canadian government attempted to impose its own regulation on a company operating legally in the U.S.”

He also said he understands Ottawa has formally voiced its concerns to Washington over the situation.

Despite rejection of the demand, Teck says it is standing by an offer made last November to contribute $13 million U.S. to research studies to assess human health and ecological concerns about pollution in the lake.

Agreement won’t help, Arar says

  • March 14, 2005 9:10 pm

U.S. can still deport under new deal


With a report from Drew Fagan in Monterrey, Mexico

OTTAWA — The Canada-U.S. consular notification agreement announced yesterday is less than meets the eye, Maher Arar and his supporters say.

Despite the positive spin Ottawa is putting on it, “nothing in this agreement would have changed what happened to me,” said the Ottawa man, who was deported from the United States to his native Syria in October of 2002.

Mr. Arar, who says he was held in solitary confinement for 10 months and was tortured by the Syrians about U.S. claims that he belonged to the al-Qaeda terrorist group, said in a written statement yesterday that Canadians should not trust the agreement to protect their rights if they travel to the United States.

His concerns were echoed by human-rights groups on both sides of the border.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, who has said he wants to “get to the bottom” of what happened to Mr. Arar, announced the agreement yesterday after a breakfast meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Monterrey, Mexico, where they are attending the Summit of the Americas.

Asked yesterday about Mr. Arar’s assessment of the agreement, Mr. Martin said he disagreed. “It would have absolutely changed the circumstances in which he was sent to Syria,” he said.

The agreement provides for formal notification and speedy consultation before a Canadian is deported to a third country, but does not block such deportations.

“The agreement does not prevent the U.S. from deporting Canadians to third countries where they might face torture,” Alex Neve, the secretary-general of the Canadian branch of Amnesty International said. “This agreement does not guarantee that there won’t be another case like that of Maher Arar’s.”

Lorne Waldman, Mr. Arar’s lawyer, noted that the announcement specifically acknowledges that countries have the right to deport foreign nationals to third countries. “To describe this as a breakthrough is clearly misleading.”

He noted that Mr. Arar himself told Canadian consular officials that American authorities threatened to send him to Syria four days before they actually hustled him out of an immigration detention centre in New York in chains and sent him to the Middle East in the middle of the night.

“The problem wasn’t that Canada didn’t know this might happen,” Mr. Waldman said. “The U.S. did it anyway.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham touted the agreement as an “unprecedented step,” saying that no other country has such an understanding with the United States.

Mr. Neve said that in fact Washington has bilateral agreements with about 50 other countries to notify them if one of their citizens is arrested.

“Algeria, Fiji are on the [mandatory notification] list,” Mr. Neve said.

“I’m surprised that Canada wasn’t already on the list,” he said.

The only new twist, he said, appears to be that the Americans will notify Canada not just about detentions but also about pending deportation hearings.

“The U.S.-Canada agreement is far from unprecedented,” said Steven Watt of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Mr. Watt is part of the legal team preparing a lawsuit on Mr. Arar’s behalf against the U.S. government for civil-rights violations.

The Vienna Convention on consular relations requires the United States and other countries to tell foreign citizens they have the right to talk with consular officials from their own country when they have been arrested.

U.S. authorities have violated this right time and again, Mr. Neve said, including in cases where the arrested foreign national faced the death penalty.

Mr. Arar said he has received no reply yet from Mr. Martin about his request last month for a meeting with the new Prime Minister to explain why he wants a public inquiry to try to clear his name.

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Canada is buying into US world domination

  • October 22, 2004 9:13 pm

The Liberal Party is being swamped by Bush’s Republicans. Are we hitching our wagon to the US juggernaut?

by Reuel S. Amdur

People mistakenly believe that the big news in right-wing consolidation is the Alliance-Reform takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party. What they have missed is the virtual swamping of the Liberal Party by Bush’s Republicans. Both are at work undermining or derailing social programs. Premier Martin is systematically defanging anyone in his caucus who is the least bit leftish. (Goodbye, Sheila.) This Liberal tilt is particularly visible in the area of defence and international relations. David Pratt’s appointment as Defence Minister is a key indicator as to how things are shaping up.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Daniel Leblanc summed it all up neatly. “Canada,” he reported, “is entering into final negotiations on joining the controversial US-built anti-missile shield without guarantees that the project will never lead to placing weapons in space.” Of course, no such guarantees would ever be possible.

The madness of spending billions – if not trillions – on the dubious prospect that such a shield is possible is evident by simply posing the question of who would be prepared to aim missiles at the US (much less Canada). Any nation to do so would immediately be obliterated by the second strike capability of the States. So let’s talk about real threats to North American security. Quite simply, you can’t aim anti-missile missiles to take out box cutters.

This missile shield policy is part of a general shift by the Martin government toward a greater accommodation with Uncle Sam. What Uncle wants, Uncle gets. And what does Uncle want?

Basically, the United States wants world domination as cheaply as possible, and without impediments such as treaties banning nuclear tests, land mines, and ballistic missiles. It also does not want to be inhibited by the International Criminal Court. Getting friendlier relations with the

US can only be accomplished by acquiescing to this path of destruction of international treaties and agreements and the undermining of efforts to establish international law.

The United States wants Canada to increase its military spending, in order to assist US efforts, and it wants direct Canadian troop involvement in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. If Canada really supports the International Criminal Court (ICC), it should take a position directly opposed to that of the US, which refuses to take part in UN mission unless there is a specific exemption of the mission from ICC jurisdiction. A Canadian position should be to refuse participation unless ICC jurisdiction is acknowledged by all participants. But don’t hold your breath.

It has been argued that we need to support the missile shield to be able to have a say in how such a program proceeds and to be able to speak to any idea of moving the program into the weaponization of space. We need to be, it is argued, “at the table”. Canada will not be at any table where

US military policies are made. Under the table, perhaps. The tail will definitely not wag the dog. More likely, Bush shares Al Capone’s view. When someone mentioned Canada to Capone, he replied, “What street is that on?”

The extent of Canadian influence on US decision-making on security matters is well illustrated by the Arar case. Paul Martin has just wrung a concession from George Bush that Canada will be informed when a Canadian is being held for reasons of national security. Note: This is not a guarantee that the person will not be sent abroad for torture, just that Canada will be informed.

In looking at foreign policy, we need to ask a basic question: Do we want to support programs and policies that increase international security and law, or do we prefer to hitch our wagon to the US juggernaut imposing its own self-interested Pax Americana on the world?

Reuel Amdur is a social worker and consultant who represents people appealing denial of Ontario Disability Support Program benefits. He also can assist in appealing for special diets on ODSP and Ontario Works, when the government claims that the diets are not covered. If people on ODSP get a windfall, he can help them keep their windfall and still continue to get ODSP. He is also available to ghost articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Thousands face job loss as Victoria reallocates timber

  • December 24, 2003 9:14 pm

In the province’s most sweeping transfer of timber rights ever, 27 forest firms will lose eight million cubic metres of timber

Gordon Hamilton

Thousands of forest workers in British Columbia’s resource communities are being told this week that many of them could lose their jobs by the end of the year as Victoria begins implementing the most sweeping transfer of timber rights in the province’s history.

The forests ministry has identified 27 forest companies that will be losing eight million cubic metres of timber province-wide. Licensees are giving up 20 per cent of their timber rights as part of an ambitious but unproven plan to remake the forest industry by creating opportunities for new players from timber that has traditionally been harvested by companies and the community-based contractors they employ.

Some critics say the future is bleak for the province’s resource towns if competitive bidding leads to wholesale cost-cutting by the lowest bidders.

“You are going to end up with gypsy crews going from contract to contract,” said Darrell Wong, president of the coastal local of the Industrial, Wood & Allied Workers of Canada. “Instead of people living in good homes in our resource towns, all you will see is a lot of pick-ups parked down at the local motel.”

“It’s all part of the exercise creating these new opportunities,” said Forests Minister Mike de Jong. “Transition to a better place is never easy, and this is no exception to that rule. But the first thing I would emphasize is that the trees aren’t going anywhere.”

The stakes are high. The province refers to its strategy as the forest revitalization plan and says it will create new employment, help resolve First Nations demands to be involved in the industry, and return a portion of the timber to the control of resource communities.

Also, half the timber is going to Victoria’s new market-based timber pricing system, a change long demanded by American forest companies as part of the price to achieve free trade in softwood lumber.

But the re-allocation — agreed upon on a license-by-licence basis last week after six months of negotiations with forest companies — is not hitting all communities and workers equally.

In some cases, entire companies say they will be pulling out of town.

In others, community-based contractors are being told there will not be enough timber for them all to stay in business, as forest companies adapt to harvesting a smaller share of the provincial harvest.

How many people will lose their jobs remains uncertain as all details of the tenure transfer have not yet been worked out.

But the coast alone employs 14,000 people in logging. If 20 per cent of them are affected by the take-back, that’s almost 3,000 workers from that one region alone, said the IWA’s Wong.

Victoria is reconstructing a forest industry that by all accounts is in need of radical change. But now that change is here, workers and community leaders who are feeling the heaviest impact say it is too much too fast.

“In the short-term, this is going to have a terrible effect,” said Hope Mayor Gordon Poole, where 75 forest workers are facing lay-offs. “There are going to be some families very hard hit.”

“The reality of that change is hitting home now,” said Jim Girvan, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, which represents 300 logging contractors on the B.C. coast. Girvan said the TLA supports the changes despite the disruptions they are causing. Last year, coastal companies logged only half their allowable harvest, an indication of how badly change is needed, he said.

The hardest hit communities appear to be coastal B.C., where there is less timber available, and more First Nations wanting to enter the business. Companies have agreed to give up entire operations in some cases, in order to focus more profitably in other parts of the province.

For example:

* In Hope, International Forest Products has told its 75 employees that it intends to shut down its entire operation, giving up 100 per cent of its tenure in the Fraser timber supply area. Workers say they were told Dec. 31 will be their last day. Hope stands to lose $4 million in annual payroll and the spin-off effects of having a logging company operating out of the town.

* In Port Alberni, Weyerhaeuser plans to meet today with workers after giving up 300,000 cubic metres — 30 per cent of its West Coast Vancouver Island harvest. Coincidentally, Weyerhaeuser’s Sproat Lake division, which employs 150 people, has the rights to harvest 300,000 cubic metres of timber a year.

* In the Lake Cowichan region, TimberWest Forest is giving up 35 per cent of its tenure, a change that is going to have an as-yet undetermined impact on the 230 people employed in logging operations there.

* In Squamish, Interfor has relinquished 55 per cent of its timber harvest, a volume that union leaders say will affect more than half the loggers in the region.

* In Chilliwack, Canfor Corp. is handing over 100 per cent of its tenure, leaving the local contractor with no guaranteed timber supply.

For most communities and workers, however, the impact of the timber re-allocation won’t be known until exact details — specifically what areas on the ground from within each licence will be handed over — are settled. Victoria wants it done by the end of the year. However, to ease the transition, forest companies have until the end of 2005 to complete the re-allocation.

Companies are being told they can continue business as usual for the remainder of this year, said deputy forests minister Doug Konkin.

He said the government is taking 20 per cent from each company that harvests more than 200,000 cubic metres of timber a year. The decision to target companies rather than actual forest licenses was made to provide maximum flexibility for both companies and the government in determining what timber to take back.

Also, to ease the burden on contractors, de Jong said the government is considering making available timber that has not been harvested in recent years because of the myriad economic issues facing the coast — the so-called undercut. The additional volume should encourage a more orderly transition to the new B.C. logging model.

In the long run, the timber being taken back this year will come back on the market, being re-allocated to satisfy the demands of new stakeholders from First Nations to newly-created community forest tenures and the province’s new auction-based timber pricing system.

However, it remains uncertain how quickly that timber will be re-allocated and actually harvested.

Workers were expressing rage Wednesday over the news they will soon be unemployed.

“We still have bills to pay. We have a house in town we have to pay taxes on. I am a stake-holder too. I am a stakeholder in Interfor, I am a stakeholder in the community and I am a stakeholder in the province,” said Doug Besse, who works at Interfor’s Hope log sort. “Now everything is up in the air for us.”

“The bottom line is: We’ve got to find jobs somewhere else,” said Hope logging truck driver Vern Morrow, who also works for Interfor.

Interfor vice-president Otto Schulte said the forest company can accept the loss of its Hope operation and cutbacks at Squamish because most of the company’s other tenures — with the exception of the North Coast — have been left relatively intact.

“The timber will continue to be logged by somebody,” Schulte said. “It just won’t be Interfor.”

Forest licensees could get back into the harvesting business if they choose, however, by bidding for the timber on the open market or by making joint-venture deals with First Nations, who in many cases will require the equipment and logging expertise of existing operators to harvest their new allocations.

Hope Mayor Poole said what hurts his community is that there was no advance warning or consultation with Victoria.

“It’s out of the blue, with no consultation for the people being affected, like the community, like the employees.

“I got a call from Interfor on this. The government never contacted us. The least they could have done is contact us, let us have some input. I still haven’t heard from the government on it.”

De Jong said Wednesday that the change is being managed to the best of the province’s ability. But he acknowledged it is drastic.

He said the province’s goal is to enhance economic opportunities from the trees. He noted that in the Fraser timber supply area, which is being hit hard, the Sto:lo First Nation has plans to build a processing plant. Currently, although the wood is harvested by Canfor and Interfor, it is shipped elsewhere for processing.

Also, he said, the province is setting up a $75-million transition fund to assist contractors and workers affected by the tenure transfer.

Winnipeg wants the Penguins

  • August 6, 2003 9:04 pm

Seven years after losing the Jets to Phoenix, it appears the city of Winnipeg wants the National Hockey League back.

The Winnipeg Sun reported Thursday that the city’s deputy mayor Coun. Dan Vandal penned a letter to Penguins owner Mario Lemieux on Dec. 9 to consider moving his team to Manitoba.

In his message sent to Lemieux, Vandal pointed out that the league is facing “difficult decisions” with an imminent labour shutdown, and said Winnipeg was ready to welcome the struggling club if it can’t make things work in Pittsburgh.

“We have to be cognizant of the changing issues in the NHL, and position ourselves to capitalize on those changes,” Vandal told The Sun in explaining his inquiry to Lemieux, which is dated Dec. 9.

“The quality of the fan here is second-to-none — so consider us.”

Neither Lemieux nor anyone from the team has responded to the letter, and Penguins general manager Craig Patrick told reporters earlier this week that a rumour saying Lemieux would sell without a new arena deal by the time a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached is false.

Vandal’s letter – not considered to be an official city query – is the first public declaration of another city wanting to house the Penguins.

Many expect the league to suffer a shutdown due to a strike or lockout when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and its players expires next September, and that some teams may not survive a potential work stoppage.

Portrait Of A Corporate Media Lord

  • February 12, 2003 9:09 pm

It looks like Rupert Murdoch has some competition. Advocates of free and independent media have long-used Murdoch and his company News Corp as a prime and glaring example of what is wrong with corporate news making. Murdoch’s virtual monopoly of broadcast airwaves and his politicking for a pro-business, pro-war agenda have indeed served as a blueprint for what the fourth estate should not be. While Murdoch is certainly not alone in pushing corporate interests in mainstream journalism, few media tycoons have reached household name status among independent media advocates (and their enemies).

Now, Lord Conrad Black, ex-chief executive and current chairman of Hollinger International Inc., is giving Murdoch a run for his money (and political ties). Canadians have a long and contentious history with Black. While at the helm of Hollinger – which began as one small Canadian paper and at its height in Canada accounted for 42% of the country’s daily circulation – Black authorized job cuts while pocketing millions in cash and bonuses. But it is his recently uncovered dealings with the U.S. defense elite that is propelling Black to Murdoch-like infamy.

Hollinger’s list of major news publications spans at least three continents and includes the U.S.’s Chicago Sun Times, Israel’s The Jerusalem Post and the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. In total, the company owns over 380 newspapers worldwide, down from nearly 620 in the late 1990s.

More interesting than Black’s far-reaching empire is the recently-resigned CEO’s private business dealings using his public company’s funds. Closest to Black in these partnerships have over the years been none other than U.S. military advisors Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle. The three men have developed an influential marriage of money, power and politics, which has at its heart a venture-capital firm called Trireme Partners. The firm invests in homeland security technology such as encryption devices and x-rays and lists all three men on its board. Little else is still known about this private company but details are slowly coming out about its monetary inflows and outflows.

The breakdown goes as follows: Hollinger’s board under Black’s direction, donated $2.5 million to Trireme, which is co-managed and owned by Perle and which lists Kissinger as a member. Also worth mentioning is that Black serves on Trireme’s “Strategic Advisory Board,” meaning he helps decide where money invested should be re-invested. Should the head of a media corporation take money from his company’s coffers to invest in an outside firm that he in turn helps control? The obvious answer is no, but Black had many motivations to do so.

Together, media-mogul Black, former secretary of state Kissinger and Perle, the former head of the influential Defense Policy Board, teamed up to make decisions on what companies should receive money to develop the U.S.’s domestic and foreign “security” machinery. In addition to serving the hawkish political interests of all three men, the business dealings also may have proved lucrative for at least one in this magnifenct trio. As co-owner of Trireme, Perle is entitled to a 5% commission for finding investments as well as a management fee.

You scratch my green back and I’ll scratch yours. For Black, a man who has routinely come out in favor of stifling dissent and promoting free-market conservatism and further arguing that there isn’t enough of it in the media, the position on Trireme’s board and his relationships with Kissinger and Perle helped cement him among the conservative elite.

“[Black] did not want news stories that irritated business leaders, certain interest groups and top civil servants… He wanted a newspaper that was less critical. I could not bring myself to accept that Le Soleil, which was a respected newspaper, be turned into nothing more than a publicity pamphlet,” Claude Gravel told The (Montreal) Gazette on March 9, 1993. Gravel quit as editor of Le Soleil, (formerly owned by Hollinger) after less than two years of Black’s ownership.

In addition to Hollinger, another big contributor to Trireme has been Boeing, the aerospace and military technology company who cites the Pentagon as its biggest client. Boeing donated $20 million to Trireme. If furthering its access to influential mainstream media and the Pentagon is what Boeing wants, then what better way than to give $20 million to a firm headed by a media mogul and two Pentagon advisors? Such business dealings between the government and U.S. defense companies could fill up the columns of an entire newspaper and then some.

What the Boeing-Trireme partnership highlights, however, is the undeniable influence and monetary capabilities of this venture-capital fund and its exclusive ties. The situation is replete with irony. As Hollinger’s many journalists struggled to cover post-September 11 public policy and its backlash (including the Patriot Act), their boss was busy giving a company money to encourage civil liberties-defying homeland security technology.

In addition to using Hollinger’s money to fund investments in such technology, Black (for an unknown number of years) invested $200,000 to the ultra-conservative magazine The National Interest, the conservative’s guide to conservatism. Of course, the magazine’s contributors amount to a veritable who’s who of self-promoters interested only in the elite’s interest. Black is listed as the chairman of the magazine’s editorial board and Kissinger as the co-chairman. Among the magazine’s editorial board members are Perle, hawk Daniel Pipes and columnist Charles Krauthammer. Former Secretary of State James Schlesinger publishes the quarterly periodical which dictates what is in the U.S.’s “national interest.” Interestingly, Toronto, Canada native Black manages to fit right.

Black Ousted

Black resigned as CEO of Hollinger International in November after the company said its “independent” board had given Black and other top executives $32 million in unauthorized payments. These payments came on top of about $180 million in management fees awarded to Black and his top cronies in recent years. Despite not being chief executive of the newspaper publisher anymore, Black will remain the chairman, thus enabling him to continue making decisions on where the company’s money goes (into the hands of Perle and Kissinger, presumably).

The web of business dealings doesn’t end here. Indeed, it gets more tangled, more elusive. Acting as a co-chairman in a digital technology development offshoot of Hollinger, Perle invested $14 million in U.K. technology company Cambridge Display Technology. As a majority shareholder in a part of Black’s company, Perle was entitled to payment for finding an investment in Cambridge Display Technologies.

As a result of these and other questionable “investments,” Hollinger said its value had decreased by $48 million in 2001 and by $40.5 million in 2002. For a company estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, a nearly $90 million decrease in value (along with the millions in gifts to Black and other executives) amounts to “cost cutting” measures at the lowest pay scale, meaning layoffs and salary freezes.

While busy with his conservative cronies and indulging in a notoriously lavish lifestyle, Black has – over the years – had time to dole out editorial advice. In Canada, Black became infamous for his distaste for journalists (even as the head of hundreds of newspapers) and often referred to them as “hacks.” On one occasion, when the employees of one of his newspapers tried to unionize in the early 1980s, Black accused them of “their intent to run a crusading separatist socialist paper.”

Black enumerated his philosophy of mixing business with journalism best in a April 9, 1994 speech to the Canadian Association of Journalists.

“Much the best course, in my judgement, and the one that we try to follow, as do many others, is to hire editors with whom the principal shareholder, where there is one, is in general agreement, to minimize internal frictions. But the proprietor [still] should exercise an influence,” he said. Murdoch, watch out.

Why Canadians are the new Americans

  • December 4, 2002 9:03 pm

The most significant sentence uttered last year, as far as I’m concerned, emerged from the mouth of a young man in San Diego who was being questioned by a researcher hired by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

“What bugs me about Canadians,” the unnamed young man said, “if I may, is that they wear that damn patch on their bags, the Canadian flag patch. That way, they differentiate themselves from us.”

His dismay, the surveyors said, was characteristic of what they described as a growing American tendency to become annoyed with the arrogant, flag-waving patriotism of Canadians. A number of Americans, the study said, “expressed a certain amount of annoyance at what is perceived as a systematic attempt by Canadians to make the statement that they are not Americans by sporting the maple leaf.”

This conclusion elicited a certain amount of mirth when it was leaked to readers on this side of the border, to put it mildly. It was as if the British had told us that our food is bland, or the Belgians that our politicians are boring.

I, for one, tend to agree with the poor dude from San Diego: Those maple-leaf patches are increasingly ubiquitous, and they’re annoying as hell. There is something very un-Canadian about showing off the fact that you’re Canadian — an exhibition of insecure pride and glib superiority that belies this country’s better qualities. It’s a fad that ought to stop.

But my carping is unlikely to stop it. Flag-waving jingoism, in the years since the 1995 referendum, has become a reflex for many English-speaking Canadians — just as the Yanks, in their post-attack mood of public solemnity, were beginning to cool it. We’re beginning to beat them at the rah-rah game.

It’s not the only endeavour at which we’re out-Yanking the Yanks. A surprising number of things we once loudly accused the Americans of doing, or of threatening to do to us, have quietly become part of the national character — often, even as Americans are giving them up.

I think here of an image presented by Bruce Powe, the scholar and author, who has described each Canadian’s mind as containing two distinct and simultaneous consciousnesses: a person fully immersed in Canadian culture, government, entertainment and public life, alongside a fully formed American, fully versed in their media, their system of government, their celebrities and their view of the world. We all carry this little American around inside us — it can’t be helped — but in some areas, we’ve let him take the reins:

Soviet Canuckistan. Many Americans would like to think of this country as the high-taxing, high-spending, big-government land of “Soviet Canuckistan.” We like to think of theirs as a place where steely-eyed Republicans have winnowed government down to a few office buildings and national monuments, getting rid of “welfare as we know it” and never, ever spending public money on medicine.

That division is becoming increasingly untrue. A fascinating study last year by Suzanne Kennedy and Steven Gonzalez, economists with the federal Finance Department, showed that Canada has become almost as small-government-minded as its southern neighbours.

In 2001, the most recent year for which figures are available, all of Canada’s governments together doled out the equivalent of 39.7 per cent of the gross domestic product. In America, governments spent 35.3 per cent of the GDP — a 4.4 percentage-point difference, down from a difference of more than 12 points in the early 1990s.

In many areas, the Yanks appear almost as tax-and-spendish as their godless neighbours: On health care, American governments spent 6.7 per cent of the country’s sizable GDP (without even giving coverage to everyone), while Canadian governments spent 7 per cent of Canada’s much smaller GDP. On education, American governments actually spend a higher percentage than Canadians.

And look what’s happened since then: While things have remained pretty fiscally tight in Canada since 2001 (especially in the larger provinces), the United States has opened the floodgates: George W. Bush may be a conservative, but he’s not a cheapskate. With ballooning expenditures on the Iraq reconstruction and homeland security, it may well be that America has surpassed Canada as the land of big government spending. Hello, Soviet Americastan.

NAFTA? Don’t havta. A decade-and-a-half ago, Canada fought an ugly election over the question of open trade. A great many Canadians felt that it was a terrible, American idea being foisted on us: It would steal our jobs, destroy our industries, put foreigners in control and lower our standard of living.

Today, if you want to hear that kind of rhetoric, you’ll have to tune your TV to an American news channel. On CNN, the conservative money-talk host Lou Dobbs has devoted a segment each night for the past several months to what he describes as NAFTA’s destruction of good American jobs, its flood of foreign ownership and its outsourcing of the economy.

All nine Democratic presidential candidates are prepared to make trade the major election issue of the year. I often think that Mel Hurtig, the Canadian nationalist firebrand, ought to sue General Wesley Clark for stealing his best lines. And the Republicans, interestingly enough, aren’t taking a different position.

“Look, the fear of job losses to NAFTA is going to be the only big issue in the ’04 election,” a Republican strategist told me a few weeks ago. “No politician is going to admit to completely liking free trade, not even the president.”

The most prominent American international accomplishment last year, aside from a small war, was the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks, brought about by American cotton lobbyists and their Republican Party clients, who were lobbying against open trade with the developing world.

And what of Canada? With a booming economy, a strong dollar, low unemployment and decent consumer confidence, this year’s election will be fought on absolutely any issue but trade. Sure, we’d like the Americans to lower their restrictions on softwood and steel, but those worries about an American trade invasion seem so, like, 1988. Today, the anti-trade animus is all down south.

The American dream. You know how it goes: The kid born in the log cabin becomes the president of United Steel. The prairie girl takes the bus to Hollywood and Vine and gets her name in lights. The ghetto kid makes it in the NBA.

It may be called the American dream, but it is far more likely to happen in Canada. We owe this observation to Miles Corak of Statistics Canada, who analyzed more than 400,000 tax files in the first really major and credible study of “intergenerational mobility.”

A kid born to a poor family in Canada (that is, a family with an income below $28,000) has only a 25-per-cent chance of earning the equivalent amount of money in adulthood. There’s about the same likelihood that he will earn up to $46,000, a 20-per-cent chance he will earn up to $65,000, another 1-in-5 chance he’ll make up to $95,000, and a 13-per-cent chance, better than 1 in 10, that he will pull a six-figure salary.

In other words, as my colleague Margaret Philp noted in a close look at Mr. Corak’s work, if you’re born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder, the odds are 3 out of 4 that you will do better than your parents. If you’re born at the bottom 10 per cent, you have less than a 1-in-6 chance of staying there. And if you’re born into the bottom half of the great divide, there’s a 40-per-cent chance you’ll wind up in the top half. We do get to see how the other half lives.

And how do our southern neighbours compare? Not so well at all. Mr. Corak compares different countries in a number of ways. In terms of interclass mobility, Canada ranks near the top, along with the northern European nations, no matter how you measure it. The United States and Great Britain rank fairly low. Mr. Corak concludes that the odds that a poor Canadian will make it into a higher snack bracket are two to three times better than for an American.

So bring us your tired, your weary, your hungry masses. We’ll fix them up at the government hospital, put them on pogey, slap maple-leaf patches on their asses, and turn them into good Americans.

Tougher pot bill penalties might prevent increased border scrutiny: Cellucci

  • June 30, 2002 9:16 pm

OTTAWA (CP) – Younger people trying to enter the United States will become targets of increased surveillance unless Canada can dispel the perception that it is slackening penalties for pot use, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci said.

That perception might be eradicated if Canada’s pending marijuana legislation included criminal penalties for more than one conviction, for possession near schools or possession while operating a vehicle, Cellucci said.

“We understand that this is a public policy decision for Canada to make just like (some U.S.) states have made,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview. “We’re just saying that right now the perception is that it’s going to be a lot easier to get marijuana in Canada and that’s going to put pressure on the border.”

That strain won’t slow border traffic and trade to a crawl, but it will have an impact on border crossings and on those crossing into the United States. Younger people travelling south will be prime targets of heightened surveillance, Cellucci said.

“If the perception is that it’s easier to get marijuana in Canada, that’s going to put pressure on the border as particularly young people drive into the United States, whether they’re U.S. citizens or Canadian citizens. Customs and Immigration officers at the border are law enforcement officers. Their antenna will be up looking for those trying to bring these drugs into the United States.”

Prime Minister Paul Martin has said that his government will re-introduce legislation drafted by his predecessor, Jean Chretien, that decriminalizes penalties for possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana. What remains unclear is whether the bill will be brought back in its original form or whether it will be amended to toughen its penalties provisions.

The Bush administration has made it clear to Canada that it regards the proposed legislation as a measure that will increase marijuana supply in the United States and increase drug trafficking across the border.

The legislation mandates a maximum fine of $400 for adults and $250 for youth for possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana – about 20 cigarettes depending on how thickly they are rolled. Maximum sentences for illicit growers would increase and the government would spend about $150 million on an educational campaign to convince young people not to use drugs. Fines for possession would increase for intoxicated drivers.

But there are currently no provisions to make repeat offenders, drivers and those possessing the drug near schools criminally responsible. That’s affecting the perception of the proposed bill among Bush administration officials, Cellucci said.

“I think several things could be done to toughen the bill. I think that if the effort is made to change this perception.”

“There could be emphasis on the fact that . . . a young person is not going to have a criminal record but they are going to have to pay a significant fine which is more than what’s happening to him right now.”

“You could do things like, on a second offence you will have a criminal record and if you do it while you’re driving or if you’re near a school.”

“There are a lot of things that can be done to accomplish the public policy objective of making sure young people don’t have a criminal record because of one marijuana offence, but change the perception that’s currently out there that ‘boy it’s going to be a lot easier to get marijuana in Canada.”‘

Asked if that perception was solidified when Chretien mused about lighting up a joint after he left office, Cellucci reacted with a nod and sustained chuckle.

Pearson-era minister eyes comeback with NDP

  • April 26, 2002 9:15 pm

Ex Liberal, Conservative: Layton’s ‘got a lot on the ball,’ says Hellyer, first elected in ’49

Bill Curry

CanWest News Service

OTTAWA – Pearson-era Liberal Cabinet minister Paul Hellyer is the latest name to enter into discussions with NDP leader Jack Layton about working together in the next election.

The two have met on several occasions in recent months to discuss Mr. Hellyer’s proposal of merging the Canadian Action Party — currently led by Mr. Hellyer — with the NDP.

“I think [Mr. Layton’s] got a lot on the ball and is very aggressive and imaginative and charismatic and he’s going to stir things up,” said Mr. Hellyer, 80, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1949.

Mr. Hellyer served in Cabinet under former Liberal prime ministers Louis St. Laurent, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. He joined the Progressive Conservative party in 1972, although he was defeated in the general election in 1974. He was a candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives in 1976.

Mr. Hellyer rejoined the Liberal party in 1982 but resigned in 1996 and the next year formed the Canadian Action Party to protest cuts implemented by the federal Liberals.

He is opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement and says Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberals and the new Conservative Party of Canada are leading Canada toward annexation by the United States.

Mr. Hellyer’s party, which received only 27,103 votes in the 2000 election, passed a resolution last fall endorsing a merger with the NDP under Mr. Layton’s leadership, provided the party’s name is changed and the NDP ceases to grant unions block-voting powers on policy and leadership matters.

In an interview, Mr. Layton confirmed he is trying to convince Mr. Hellyer and his supporters to join the NDP, but ruled out changing his party’s name before the next election. Mr. Hellyer is proposing the new party name include the word “progressive.” Mr. Layton said he hopes to convince the Canadian Action Party to campaign under the NDP and leave the debate over a possible name change until after the election.

“The rationale for creating a new party is not strong enough to persuade me that it’s the wise course of action at this moment,” Mr. Layton said. “We’re still talking. I think we can see with the Alliance takeover of the Conservative party, they threw out the word progressive, so it is available.”

Mr. Layton said he hopes to offer Mr. Hellyer some assurances on policy matters that could convince him to support the NDP. “I think he and I are very much in sync in our ideas,” he said.

When told Mr. Layton would not agree to a name change, Mr. Hellyer said he hopes to continue his negotiations and would not rule out running for the NDP in the next election. “I just don’t want to speculate because I need to do some hard thinking. I hope we will still get together for another session, and then if his decision is negative on the merger, then we can at least discuss other possibilities or see if there’s any flexibility involved and, if so, what it is,” he said.

Mr. Hellyer, who recently wrote a book called One Big Party, said a new name is required because a psychological barrier prevents most Canadians from voting for the NDP